Common Skin Conditions

Common Equine Skin Conditions

Unbeknown to most the skin is the largest organ of a horse’s body, and for this reason should be considered as one of the most important organs. There are hundreds of skins diseases, covering a wide spectra of importance. The aim of this article is to give you a brief overview of the most common problems you are likely to encounter. If you have any questions on the diseases mentioned here or any other skin problems relating to your horse, feel free to contact one of our veterinarians here at Rangiora Vet Centre.



Dermatophytosis, more commonly known as ringworm, is a fungal disease that almost all people who own horses will experience at one stage in their lifetime. The classical lesions are seen as round/circular areas of hair loss and can present anywhere on the body. This is caused by the fungus invades the hair shaft, causing them to weaken and fall out. Ringworm is a highly contagious disease to both horses and humans, and can be spread throughout a stable through direct horse to horse contact or through indirect contact through such avenues as sharing brushes, using the same cover on multiple horses.

On the bright side, ringworm is self-limiting, and recovery without treatment can occur ranging from anywhere from 1-6 months. However, for a shorter recovery time it is best to treat the cause, and in the case of ringworm is through anti-fungal shampoos. Coinciding with this the environment must be disinfected as well, so shared gear, covers, brushes must all be cleaned with an anti-fungal wash to prevent reinfection or new infections occurring.



Lice infestations are very often seen in spring, when your horse generally has a longer coat coming out of winter. A typical lice affected horse will be seen trying to profusely itch their tail and mane. There are two types of lice that affect horses, being biting and sucking lice with both causing pruritis (itchy skin). Similar to ringworm, lice are spread via direct contact between horses, so chances are if you see one horse itching the rest will have some level of infestation. Lice can best be seen using a magnifying glass or confirmed through coat brushing taken from the skin. Louse powder has commonly been used to treat infestations and does still have its place. However, in cases of heavy infestations, Ivermectin based treatments are the treatment of choice in killing the lice as well as the eggs they lay.



Mange is a condition cause by a mite called Chorioptic equi, and is mostly seen to affect heavy feathered horses. Mites a usually found on the lower limb of horses, but in heavy infestations can spread to other parts of the body. In the case of mange, most of the damage is through self-trauma as the horse reacts to irritation, thus secondary infections occur results in purulent discharging wounds. Mange is confirmed through finding mites in a coat brushing of the affected areas. Secondary infections are best treated using antibacterial washes, and the best treatment relating to mites is clipping the legs, washing with anti-parasitic (Ivermectin based) shampoos and disinfecting the environment.



With winter approaching and wet weather on the horizon, mud fever and rain scald should be on everyone’s radar for the coming months. These conditions are caused by a bacteria called Dermatophilus. Mud fever is seen to affect the lower limb and rain scald the body. Dermatophilus is a bacteria found in the everyday environment, and gains entry through damaged skin. The combination of damaged skin and wet conditions allows this bacterium to thrive, leading to scabs to develop and the skin beneath to become red, raw and sore.

Treating these problems involves clipping the hair around the affected areas, and washing with either dilute iodine or chlorhexidine. Here at Rangiora Vet Centre we also have our own mud fever lotion that is made in clinic, just enquire at the counter.



Again another issue to keep at the back of the mind for next summer is sunburn. More of a problem for horses with areas of unpigmented skin, large areas of white hair. Just like us, the area becomes burnt and the affected skin peels off leaving the area raw and open for infection. As with all diseases, prevention is better than treatment and so horses that are prone to sunburn should have at risk areas covered in sunblock.

If sunblock doesn’t appear to be working, then you shouldn’t hesitate to contact us, as there are underlying systemic issues which may be behind the problem. For example, liver damage can result in photosensitisation of the skin which can present similar to sunburn. Liver problems are very serious and the cause needs to be found and treated accordingly.



Warts are caused by a virus called papilloma virus and is a common cause of lumps in younger horses as their immune system is still in development. They take appearance as your classic wart-like appearance, and generally found around the muzzle, lips and limbs. 

They are highly contagious to other horses, but are self-limiting so will resolve if left alone.


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